As summer fades away and becomes a distant memory, it’s easier to look back at the season’s festivals and pick a winner. This year, for me, it would be the legendary Reading Festival. The headliners were bound to please an audience of various backgrounds and ages, and The 1975, Post Malone, Twenty One Pilots, and Foo Fighters were just four reasons why the festival sold out weeks in advance.
Friday exploded with music on all stages and, as with all festivals, sometimes you’ll find the most exciting acts far from the lights of the main stage. The Pit / The Lock Up Stage hosted the Aussie rockers Press Club. Young and dangerous, uncompromising like their albums, they offer a raw mix of electric guitars and Natalie Foster’s haunting voice, and prove they’re ready to conquer the world.
Meanwhile at Festival Republic Stage, British four-piece indie rock band Black Honey, led by the charismatic Izzy B Phillips, are hypnotising the audience and proving why they’re the band to check out and see live.
Next up on my list are The Wombats. An indie rock band from Liverpool, they treat gathered fans with a well-balanced mixture of their hits and classic anthems by Joy Division and David Bowie.
Straight after the indie disco the main stage welcomes Royal Blood. The duo from Brighton shift the musical mood into heavy bass riffs and thundering drums. Relying on their greatest hits Little Monster, Figure It Out, and Come On Over the band pulled out a strong but unsurprising set.
Friday headliners The 1975 return to the festival in full glory to finally close the main stage. The band headlined the BBC Radio 1 Stage in 2016, and within just three years they’re back in full swing, to prove their place amongst the world’s best live bands. There’s no holding back as they open the set with a song that’s been out for less than 24 hours. And why not? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the group’s biggest show to date, so what could be better than treating the fans and the sceptics to the brand new tune? People kicks off a show that’s strong on fan-favourite tunes and insta-ready visuals – a perfect way to close the festival’s first day.
Saturday brings rising temperatures and American singer-songwriter Moriah Rose Pereira, widely known as Poppy. After her highly acclaimed debut record Poppy Computer was released in 2017, she was called “the Warhol of the YouTube era” by New York Magazine. And her popularity continues to grow: The Pit / Lock Up Stage tent is filled to capacity at almost the same time as Billie Eilish takes over the Main Stage.
Eilish is the voice of her generation, and the rebellious girl with a microphone and green hair could easily be headlining Saturday night. In fact, she should be. There is no one quite like her on the music scene right now. Her performance draws the biggest crowd of the day and changes it into a sea of waving hands and youngsters running around in circle pits. From You Should See Me In A Crown to Copycat and All The Good Girls Go To Hell, the crowd goes insane for every song, and it looks like the organisers have missed the chance to be the first main festival headlined by the young star.
Higher up on the bill, Blossoms are just okay with a collection of their hits and some classic anthems by New Order and Bowie, But nothing can match the energy of Eilish. Even the pair of headliners – Twenty One Pilots and Post Malone, both supported by breathtaking light shows – can’t draw as big a crowd or invoke the same levels of energy as a 17-year-old Los Angeles native with just a microphone.
With Sunday comes a real heatwave. The temperature reaches 31 degrees, and there’s a visible change in the age of one-day ticket holders running to get a spot in front of the stage. No matter the heat, they’ll be there, glued to their precious spots at the barrier, waiting for tonight’s headliners: Foo Fighters.
But before the American rockers hit the main stage, YUNGBLUD steps up with alternative rock and provocative lyrics. The Yorkshire singer-songwriter brings a fresh, self-invented mixture of rap, rock, and political statements. You’ll love it or hate it, but you won’t be indifferent.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes are one of the most interesting acts on the British music scene nowadays. The main stage slot comes in the middle of their End Of Suffering Tour promoting the band’s third album. It might be day three of the festival in the scorching heat, but Carter isn’t going to slow down for the benefit of the crowd. His shows are known for their high energy levels on and off stage. He’s that type of singer who throws himself in a mosh pit to feel a better connection with his fans.
He proclaims himself a lifelong music fan and recalls the time when he had to buy concert tickets to see his favourite groups. He always turned up early to get the best possible spot, but always dreaded the support groups as they were good enough. When he became a support act, he remembered those gig-going experiences and made a promise to be the best opening band you would ever see. Even now that he’s a bonafide headliner, that give-it-all attitude continues. He’s a charismatic leader who knows exactly how to play an audience like another instrument. During the set, he shows himself to be a caring father and a women’s rights advocate who wants safe gigs – a women-only mosh pit and women-only crowd surfing. These are things you don’t expect from a punk rock band whose leader dives into the crowd to mosh along with his fans.
Ironically as the sun goes down, the temperature at the festival rises. Celebrating 25 years, Foo Fighters are closing their European Tour here tonight.
Reading Festival is one of the special places in Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters history. It’s the place Nirvana played an iconic show in 1992, and also where Foo Fighters made their way to the top. Their return couldn’t be anything less than spectacular.
The well-known festival formula of greatest hits and special guests is always going to be successful, but Grohl is a master of that craft. His band swings through rock anthems – Pretender, Times Like These, Learn To Fly – and songs from their latest album – Run, La Dee Da, Sunday Rain – like a well-oiled machine. The crowd loves it. The musicians love it. There is mutual joy on both sides of the barrier, and a connection between audience and band that not many can achieve. It might be the third day of the festival, the hottest day of summer, and the last day of a long tour, but the Foos are at the top of their game – just like their fans.
There are surprises – an AC/DC cover, Rick Astley and Never Gonna Give You Up – and some well-known tricks – changing the audience into the backing vocalists on My Hero. The band know they have nothing left to prove. They’ve been around for so long, they can put on a spectacular show and still have as much fun as their fans.
As the night, and another year at Reading Festival, draws to an end, Grohl prefers not to say goodbye. Instead he, and the thousands who’ve turned up to see his band, say: “Hello, I’ve waited here for you, Everlong…”
Review by Edyta K at Reading Festival, 23rd – 25th August 2019.